Firms give generously to Calgary law school

It’s been like Christmas in September for the University of Calgary Faculty of Law.

The school was the recipient of $600,000 from Bennett Jones LPP, brining the firms’ grand total donations to more than $2 million and making it the largest cumulative donor in the law school’s history.

The most recent donation will be used to name the Bennett Jones Lecture Theatre, support technology upgrades, and establish the Maclean (Mac) Jones QC Memorial Scholarship.

UC law dean Ian Holloway welcomes the support from the firm — both financial and through a strong reciprocal relationship. The money allows the school to do things it couldn’t do otherwise, he says. With public funding for legal education flat and often being cut, the willingness of firms like Bennett Jones to support law schools becomes more and more crucial for them.

As Holloway points out, it’s not all financial. The firm assists in many ways — with recruitment, hiring the law students, sponsoring career functions, and loaning the school space. Despite a focus on fundraising, the best relationships, says Holloway, are those that exist on more than one level.

“I think the spirit of community involvement has been one of the hallmarks of the firm since the very beginning,” says Holloway.

In part, this is owed to Maclean Jones, a founder of the firm who passed away in March. Mac, as he was known, came back from the Second World War with a “sense of duty and comradeship,” says Holloway. He had a successful legal career but also viewed himself as a civic leader. It is his spirit of generosity, duty, and support to the lawyers of the future that Bennett Jones carries forward.

Perry Spitznagel, vice chairman and Calgary managing partner of Bennett Jones, says the way Mac practised law and the kind of person he was became “embedded in our culture and the way we operate today.”

“It’s our responsibility as a law firm, as a society, to ensure future law students are educated well,” says Spitznagel.

While the firm does hire a lot of students from the University of Calgary, Spitznagel says in large measure, its donation of time, resources, and funds is a purely philanthropic endeavor.

“We believe it’s the right thing to do for the community,” he explains. “We all accept that the rule of law is one of the competitive advantages our society has, and the rule of law must be protected and enhanced.”

Spitznagel says the firm believes it owes something back to the province and to the city. The lawyers at Bennett Jones really want to make sure the market is developing and generating the top lawyers in the world — not in the country, he stresses, but the world.

Another announcement revealed the new Borden Ladner Gervais LLP Business Venture Clinic, in partnership with Innovate Calgary and third-year law students. The clinic will see the students provide free legal services to entrepreneurs. BLG’s gift of $500,000 allowed the university to enter into the partnership. The money also supports the BLG-Student Legal Assistance Trial Competition, the BLG Trial Advocacy Award, and the BLG Howard Memorial Lecture.

It’s money, sure, Holloway says, but again there are multiple levels of giving. BLG will also be providing lawyers to supervise the students as they are introduced to providing these legal services. It gives the students the chance to put their education into practice within Calgary’s business community.

“It’s a wonderful partnership that’s enhancing the quality of education and the student experience, but also giving back to Calgary,” says Holloway.

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